Old Rat’s Nest Island, Australia
Wednesday, 13th May 2009 by Evan Brammer
Peering out the window of the little airtaxi that has brought you to The Rat’s Nest, or Rottnest Island, 18 km southwest off the coast of Australia, you’ll notice the island’s name spelled out in trees. This little island, only 15 km long and 4km wide, has been the site of an aboriginal prison, WWI & WWII internment camps, and today is an important local holiday destination, popular for its shipwreck bearing reefs and notable surf breaks.
The trees that spell out “Rottnest” were planted purposely to welcome visitors to the island, which was named for the native quokka, a marsupial that resembles a large rat and thrives on the island due to the lack of a significant predator.
There are no fresh water sources on the surface of the island so rainwater has always had to be collected instead. However in the 1970s, fresh water was discovered underground, and since 1995 the government has desalinated water from these salt lakes using reverse osmosis.
One of the most famous (or infamous) buildings on the island is the Rottnest Quod, an eight-sided structure that was used to imprison over 3,700 aboriginal men and boys between 1838 and 1931. Rottnest was used in this way to “calm” the mainland native population that were committing the terrible crime of digging up crops from land that used to belong to them.
Today the Quod is a source of contention as it was used as a budget hostel for most of the 20th century and has now been converted into high-priced accommodation for tourists. However, aboriginal activists say that the site should remain a historical heritage site, demonstrating the harsh treatment of the natives by the colonial government.
Other notable features of the island are a zero tolerance approach to “antisocial behaviour”, laws banning private ownership of land, cycling being the main form of transport, and an annual 18km swim from the mainland to the easternmost point on the island.
More info on Rottnest Island at Wikipedia.
Thanks to Simon Craigie.